During the summer of 2002, Archipelago worked with the International Pacific Halibut Commission to pilot test the option of using CCTV-based electronic monitoring equipment for monitoring seabird bycatch within the Alaska longline halibut fishery. The longline fishery for Pacific halibut operates extensively throughout Alaskan waters, with vessels ranging in size, time and area of operation, and other aspects. At the time of this trial, no observer monitoring of these vessels occurred; however, groundfish longline vessels greater than 60 feet length-over-all did have observer coverage. In this fleet the incidental take of seabirds, including rare takes of the endangered short-tailed albatross, had been documented along with the requirement that reasonable and prudent measures be taken by the fleet to reduce or eliminate seabird interactions.
An International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) report explored the options for monitoring potential seabird bycatch in the halibut fisheries, and recommended video monitoring over deploying observers, due to the great cost, difficult logistics, and concerns about availability of the latter.
The National Marine Fisheries Service agreed with this finding, believing that there were two possible solutions through video monitoring. One was to ensure that all longline vessels are compliant with regulations requiring a performance-based standard for seabird avoidance gear. Studies show that when this gear is deployed properly, seabird catch is nil. The other solution is to use video monitoring of the catch to assess seabird bycatch rates and aid in species identification. Although video monitoring was regarded as a very promising solution for this problem, it had not been tested in US waters. To that end, Archipelago worked collaboratively with the IPHC during the 2002 summer survey season to pilot test this option and provide advice to NMFS.
EM systems were installed on two vessels chartered by the IPHC in order to pilot test the use of video technology to assess the feasibility of monitoring compliance with regulated use of bird avoidance devices and to evaluate the feasibility of detecting and identifying incidentally caught seabirds during longline fishing.
EM systems monitored a total of 189 fishing operations over a three-month period. Results from the study showed that EM systems provided accurate information on the time and location of fishing operations, and gear setting imagery was of sufficient quality to assess the performance of streamer lines. Imagery during the retrieval could be used to detect and identify most seabird species.